Following on with our preparations for Christmas, now is the time to get the Christmas cake ready. If, that is, you want a traditional one. For those of you that want a fast cake I’ll share a really great recipe nearer to the time.
This recipe for a mature Christmas cake comes from the most extraordinary tea rooms in England, Bettys Tea Rooms started in Harrogate in North Yorkshire over one hundred years ago and now have six foodie shrines spread around Yorkshire, all still run by the descendants of the original Swiss founder.
As a child, we would go to Bettys for my mother’s birthday and I will always remember pressing my nose to the window, staring at the unbelievable array of breads and cakes. The choice of traditional breads with names that I could barely pronounce was staggering and the perfection of the cakes, tarts and sweet treats completely inspirational. Now usually our memories play tricks on us, but Bettys is different, we took the kids there last year and it was like I was transported back to my own childhood only this time it was all four of us with our noses pressed to the window.
This Christmas cake recipe is theirs and frankly is hard to beat, to see the glistening glace fruits crowding the top hark back to an older time when families would save all year to be able to buy the spices and fruits that we take for granted today.
For the cake
250g butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g plain white flour
75g ground almonds
pinch of salt
250g golden sultanas
125g glace pineapple, finely chopped
75g crystallized ginger, finely chopped
185g whole mixed peel (lemon, orange and citron) finely chopped
50g angelica, finely chopped
125g chopped walnuts
grated zest and juice of one lemon
250g naturally coloured glace cherries
For the decoration
3-4 tablespoons apricot jam
3-4 tablespoons water
glace fruits (orange and lemon slices, pineapple, apricots, figs, cherries, angelica)
- line the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 140°C (gas mark 1)
- Place the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat until pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs, one by one, mixing well.
- Combine the flour, almonds and salt together and add to the mixture gradually.
- Next add the sultanas, pineapple, ginger, peel, angelica, walnuts, sherry and lemon juice and zest. Mix well, then gently stir in the cherries so that they remain whole.
- Transfer the cake mixture to the cake tin, flattening the surface with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 3 hours. The cake will be ready when it is golden brown on top and firm to the touch, but don’t be afraid to give it a little longer if it doesn’t appear to be ready. To check, pierce the centre with a thin skewer – it should come out clean.
- When cool enough to handle, remove from the cake tin and leave on a cooling rack until completely cold. Wrap in tin foil and place in an airtight container to mature until needed. This should be placed in a cool dark corner of your pantry.
- The day before you need it, decorate it. Depending on how boozy you like your Christmas cake you can add 50ml of brandy (or spirit of your choosing) to the top of the cake and allow to soak in before the decoration begins.
- To decorate, place the apricot jam and water in a small pan over a low heat. Stir well until you have a thick glaze. Brush the top of the cake with a generous quantity of the apricot mixture, then lay the glace fruits on top in a design of your choice. Allow to cool, then brush the top of the fruits with a little more apricot glaze.
Traditionally in Yorkshire this would be served with Wensleydale cheese, which seems a little odd but has to be tried to be believed. Going the full hog why not match it all to a glass of Dark Spice Liqueur from 8th Tribe, our glorious Bay of Plenty distille
Seems odd doesn’t it to be talking about Christmas so soon, but in a cooking sense it all begins now with the Christmas cake and puddings needing time to mature.
For those of you that used to buy my Christmas puddings in the old Deli days, I’ve always promised to share the recipe and for some reason never got around to it. This pudding is light and full of flavour unlike the dark, heavy ones that use shredded suet. For me these work so much better for our New Zealand Christmas, leaving you able to move afterwards instead of anchored to the sofa.
There are many people who claim to loathe Christmas pudding, in most cases I suspect that they have never tasted a real one, only the heavy and flavourless commercial version. Food processors offer us a vast range at different prices and qualities but this one should come with a warning, once you’ve made it at home you’ll never be able to buy one again.
The ‘Ultimate’ Christmas Pudding
Makes 2 x 1.8kg puddings
350g grated fresh breadcrumbs
625g each of raisins and sultanas
560g Demerara sugar
175g mixed peel
250g grated cold butter
1 tsp mixed spice
20g each grated lemon zest and orange zest
175g glace cherries
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, add the liquid ingredients and mix well again. Fill 2 buttered pudding basins and tie foil across the top with a pleat to allow the pudding enough room to expand. Steam in a covered pan with water coming halfway up the basin sides for 6 hours, topping up water as necessary. Store in an airy place for 3 months to 1 year. Steam for 1 hour on day of eating or microwave for 5 to 6 mins.
Like snuggling around an open fire in winter, the Dark Spice liqueur from Distillerie Deinlein is warm enough to make you hope for bad weather and cold evenings every day. Its warm, smooth, seductive flavours come from the most unlikely hero …..the walnut! And what’s more it’s local.